News | 24 April 2018

Final straw for plastic straws in the capital

It’s the final straw for plastic straws on the Wellington waterfront, with the area now 100 percent free of them thanks to two American exchange students, Wellington City Council and Sustainable Coastlines.

Image of plastic straws collected on Wellington beaches by Sustainable Coastlines
119 straws picked up in 10 minutes by one person at Evan's Bay

US exchange students interning at Wellington City Council and Sustainable Coastlines, Heather MacDougall and Katie Timzen, have been- instrumental in a campaign to rid the waterfront of traditional plastic straws.

Katie left last year having got the ball rolling and even influenced Wagamama’s full international chain of 200 restaurants to become plastic straw free. Heather is leaving soon having achieved the pair’s dream – a perfect result – but hopes the campaign spreads further afield.

“Each year Sustainable Coastlines pick up over 10,000 plastic straws from Wellington beaches alone – putting them in the top five of items in beach clean-up audits” Heather says. 

“It can take up to 200 years for a single plastic straw to break down in the ocean, and with some restaurants using up to 800 straws a week, that is taking its toll on landfills and the environment.” 

The waterfront area this initiative encompasses runs from the Railway Station to Freyberg Pool, with 26 restaurants, cafes, and bars no longer using traditional plastic straws – instead opting for paper, biodegradable, and metal alternatives, or no straws at all. 

Being plastic straw-free is also a condition of trade for stallholders and food trucks at Harbourside Market and along the Wellington waterfront. 

Mayor Justin Lester says this is a fantastic result and he supports the environmental campaign. 

“This project fits our visions of developing Wellington as an Eco City by addressing the environmental challenges we have, and investing in our natural assets to insure a greener, sustainable, and more resilient future. 

“We have made a commitment to waste management and minimisation, primarily reducing the volume of rubbish that ends up in our landfills. 

“It is exciting that Wellington could be the first plastic straw-free city in New Zealand. There has already been an amazing response to this initiative and now that the waterfront is 100 percent plastic straw-free, our target is the rest of the city.” 

While Wellington could potentially be first in New Zealand, other cities overseas have already gone plastic straw-free, with Seattle being the most famous with its ‘Strawless in Seattle’ campaign. 

The next stage of the Wellington project is to work with other organisations to encourage non-participating bars, restaurants and event organisers to join the campaign, says Infrastructure and Sustainability portfolio leader Councillor Iona Pannett. 

“This initiative has been a collaborative partnership between the Council’s Waterfront team and Sustainable Coastlines, and we’re looking to invite other organisations to join the campaign to support us in the next steps. 

“Casual plastic use needs to come to an end. As with plastic bags, we can't regulate the banning of plastic straws so we need to focus on education, collaboration, and participation – and public pressure is already making a difference.” 

Karin Wiley from Forest & Bird has first-hand experience of the damage plastic is doing to the environment. 

“It’s not just plastic straws that are an issue in the ocean – any sort of plastic is. I have done autopsies on little penguins and found large amounts of plastic in their gut, although not specifically plastic straws.

“I doubt little penguins would swallow a plastic straw because of its length but they would definitely be adversely affected by the toxins released by the plastic these straws are made from as they degrade in the water and are absorbed by the micro-organisms that are eaten by the fish the penguins feed on. The toxins contaminate and concentrate in the food chain,” adds Karin.